Lying in bed this morning I was tussling with a troublesome problem; do I cycle in the rain or drive to work? It’s a tricky thing when the temperature is barely above freezing and one is content and warm under the duvet. I felt I really should cycle though. Getting up, I open the curtains to let some light into the room. “Wow, that’s a surprise”, I say to myself. The world outside is white and more snow is falling as I watch mesmerised. I think to myself, “Looks like I’m walking”. I dress appropriately and take the dog with me for a walk. He isn’t very keen and neither am I. It is a short walk. Back home, I feed the dog, reduce the layer count by one and set off down the hill towards work.
It is still snowing but five minutes along the road it is obvious that the snow is not laying as much. In fact it is more like sleet now. It seems that those vehicle drivers were probably justified in the speed they were doing; the snow is rather localised. Maybe I didn’t need to walk after all. At least my footsteps are firm now, none of this slipping about anymore.
I notice the traffic seems louder than usual when it passes. I can feel myself on edge when it approaches. It gives me an inkling into how difficult road noise is for some autistics. I wonder if the snow is concentrating the sound somehow but that doesn’t make sense to me. Is it because I have a hood up so that I have a sound capturing cone around my head? I try to see if it is worse when traffic approaches from the front on me rather than behind. I am not sure. I come to the conclusion that it is the contrast that is the problem. Silence followed by sudden noise, sound perhaps increased because of the slush on the road. I decide this is a good “autistic moment” to tweet about. How to describe my reaction to the noise? I decide a thunder clap comes closest without the warning lighting. Writing the tweet provides a welcome distraction for a while.
I guess like many people who spend time online I was aware it was Autism Awareness Week last week but in my case, my awareness was only when it was happening. I went to my Late Diagnosis Group and was surprised it wasn’t mentioned but I guess a bunch of adults who have recently received an autistic diagnosis don’t really need to be made aware of autism or what that means because that’s is part of what the group is about anyway. The session was about communication and what I did find strange was that in discussing strategies for being in difficult situations it wasn’t mentioned that we could explain that we were autistic so the situation was hard. The emphasis seemed to be on our right to privacy.
Now I know as well as the next how horrible it is to say I am autistic as part of explaining my reaction to something and getting nothing but puzzled stony silence back. I read somewhere recently that a man had found it easy to come out as gay compared to telling people he was autistic. He thought the world was adjusting to different forms of sexuality but that acceptance of neurodiversity was lagging behind. It took me great courage to accept my depressive tendencies and autism feels like another step along the path of self-understanding. My approach nowadays is to drop my autism into conversation if it seems appropriate to the context. For example, we had new acquaintances round for dinner a few weeks back and it came up in conversation that I might disappear after the meal because I would need a break from socialising. I explained I need time alone because being autistic meant that I can quickly get exhausted by being with other people.
I never thought of myself as an advocate for anything. I have strong opinions about certain things but I came to the conclusion as a young adult that I should sort myself out and do positive things myself before criticising other people and their actions. But in a sense I became a advocate for open honesty and acceptance when I started writing this blog. I write as part of the process of understanding myself and through that writing I have discussed first depression and then autism. Without trying I became an advocate for greater acceptance of neurodiverse people. More recently I set up my Twitter account to give short insights into my autistic world as they happened. There is no analysis presented, no great thoughts about the world, just “I am in this situation and this is having a challenging effect on me”. I hope to raise awareness about autism by giving everyday examples from my life.
So this last week I wondered what I could do to join in World Autism Awareness Week. To a certain extent I felt I was doing enough anyway, but maybe if the opportunity came up I could make a more explicit autism view. I found the opportunity came up twice. The first was when giving feedback on how well I felt my car repairs had gone. It was an online form so I thought it was worth pointing that that the majority of communication about getting my car fixed had to take place using the telephone. I pointed out that because I was autistic using the telephone and speaking to strangers was hard for me and that I would have like to be able to other communication forms like email or text messaging.
The second time was when I was asked to give feedback on a social fundraising event by a group I belonged to. I could have said I wouldn’t be going because it was in another city (which would have been perfectly true) but I was more open than that and explained that I found social events difficult because I was autistic. In addition I invited people to contact me if they wanted to learn more.
Now I know I am probably not going to change the world with my thoughts and comments but since writing helps me support myself maybe it can help somebody else too. I feel like I create snowflakes that fall randomly on the ground. They have a brief existence and the majority of people don’t notice them. But I think events like World Autism Awareness Week are important because if many people create a few snowflakes each, then the ground will be covered in snow and the majority may notice a change.
What I realised this morning was that my worldview can be very localised like the snow falling around my house. If I am like that then other people will be too. I feel that as someone that can communicate (at some perhaps weird level) then I have a responsibility to other people in my clan to help them have a voice but also to those people not in my clan to help them understand what it is like to be autistic. Where I live, snow doesn’t usually stay around for very long but it can make a lasting impression. May the World Autism Awareness Week and Day this year and every year make a lasting impression too.